What to Do If Your Refrigerator Breaks Down

Updated: May 12, 2023

Is your refrigerator running? If not, here's how to figure out the problem and get it fixed without calling for help.

Everyone knows that if your refrigerator is running, you should probably go catch it. But what do you do if your refrigerator is not running? Here’s a quick guide on the troubleshooting steps you should take if your refrigerator breaks down.

Is the Motor Running?

The first thing you should always do when you notice that your refrigerator is not running as it should is to pull the unit away from the wall and listen for the sound of its motor. If you can hear the motor running and the inside of the refrigerator still feels noticeably warmer than it should be, something has most likely gone wrong internally that will need to be addressed by an appliance repair technician. As soon as you are pretty sure that something is wrong with your fridge, try to keep its door closed as much as possible to keep as little of the cold air from escaping as possible.

Make sure your fridge isn’t dipping below the safest refrigerating temperature.

Check the Outlet

If you cannot hear the sound of the motor and the refrigerator seems to be completely dead, the next thing to test is the outlet. Unplug the refrigerator from the outlet and plug a small appliance that you know is in good working condition into the same slot. If the small appliance still works, you now know for sure that the problem lies with the refrigerator itself and not its power source.

Clean Out the Cooling Components

While you’ve got the refrigerator unplugged and pulled away from the wall, also be sure to check how dirty its cooling components are. Refrigerators have cooling coils and a fan that require at least semi-regular cleaning to stay working in top shape. To access these components, remove the kick-plate or grill at the bottom of the refrigerator (this is usually in the back of the fridge, but can occasionally be found along its front). Clean the components thoroughly with a vacuum cleaner and a cloth or brush. If your refrigerator does not work after cleaning the cooling components, you are likely dealing with a deeper issue that should be looked at by an appliance repair tech.

What Do You Do With Food When a Refrigerator Breaks Down?

Once you’ve come to the conclusion that your refrigerator has broken down completely, it’s time to decide what to with all of the food that is still inside of it. For perishable items, the clock is already ticking. According to the USDA, a refrigerator without power can keep food safe for consumption for up to four hours. After that time period is up, any perishable items will need to be either thrown out, eaten immediately or transferred to an ice-filled cooler. Frozen food will stay safe to eat for considerably longer, retaining a safe temperature for up to 48 hours in a powerless freezer.

Follow these tips to avoid shortening the life of your refrigerator.

The Family Handyman
Originally Published on The Family Handyman